On June 3, 2017 I had an accident that had profound effects on my lifestyle. This blog recounts my road to recovery.
I was so looking forward to a restful visit at my mom’s in Pinehurst North Carolina. Living in Vancouver BC, I don’t get out to North Carolina often and it’s too far a trip for my 87 year old mom to take, even though she’s in great shape. I had just completed a week long business trip to Florida so had arranged to swing by North Carolina on the way home for an extended weekend.
Pinehurst is a beautiful part of the the US. Noted for it’s ‘Carolina Blue Skies’ and golf courses. Mom lives on 36 hole golf course just outside Pinehurst and her home over looks the 11th tee box. I have fond memories of great dinners and visits with neighbours (Carolinians are known for their hospitality and friendliness) and golf games with friends and families. Of course, nothing beats mom’s home cooking..
I arrived Friday afternoon. Spent the afternoon catching up with Mom and just meandering about the home. Took a walk along the back nine of the course. Taking in that Carolina Blue sky, the fresh air and reliving many a golf shot on the different holes. Friday was a day to just relax as I was going to tackle the usual ‘job list’ Saturday morning so we could get a couple rounds of golf in before I headed home on the Monday. Had a great home cooked meal (no one does it better than mom) of course with the obligatory pre-dinner Manhattan for mom and some wine.
This trip’s job list was similar to most trips – nothing major. Change the water filter under the house, change some light bulbs, dust ceiling fans, plus paint the skylight in her kitchen which had water marks from an old leak. Switched out the lights – job 1 done. Then painted the skylight in the kitchen.. While painting, I noticed one end of the skylight was still quite damp. That shouldn’t be. Leaks should have stopped when the roof was redone in the spring. Better go up in the attic to check for any signs of new leaks or possible mold.
Mom had a drop-down ladder that dropped from the attic into the garage. There was lots of storage up in the attic as the roof has a high pitch. Headed up. Nothing had changed. Mom doesn’t keep much/anything for storage up there any more as she can’t access it herself. There are lights up there and I had a flashlight to check for leaks. All the planks that had been put down previously to get around the trusses were still there. This home is timeless. Don’t think anything’s moved since mom moved here 25 years ago..
Easy to see the skylight. It’s a large structure from the ceiling truss up to the outside roof. Started to make my way over to check for leaks along the planks and being careful to step on the trusses. Not more than 20 feet into my journey – BAM….
Darkness became light. The attic became my mom’s walk in closet. CRASH – BANG.. In a milli-second, without warning, the drywall ceiling had given way and I was laying in a mess of drywall, and insulation on the carpeted floor of my mom’s walk in closet. Took less than a second to fall 12’.
I felt pain in my right leg. I didn’t need to look to know that it wasn’t going to be pretty and that I had suffered a major fracture. I quickly propped my self up to take a look to see where I had hurt myself. There it was, plain as day to see. God, what an awful sight… It’s seared into my mind. A vision I’ll never forget. Flopped to the right was my foot, sticking out the left were whatever bones are supposed to be in your leg. Looked like something you only see in war movies. The whole setting looking like a war zone.
Oh Greg?? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?? Those were my initial thoughts. It’s a question I’m not sure I can still answer more than 4 months later. My mind was rushing a million miles an hour. Shock was taking over. Survival was taking over. I worried about my 87 year old mom – I had to take immediate action to take care of me.. WHATEVER YOU DO GREG – DO NOT PASS OUT. The last thing mom needs to worry about is whether you are dying..
I lay back down. I couldn’t look at the wound again or I would pass out. I shouted out to my mom who was in another part of the home – MOM- CALL AN AMBULANCE NOW! GET THEM HERE ASAP. TELL THEM I’VE SUFFERRED A SEVERE ANKLE INJURY. CALL THEM NOW!
I remember her saying ‘What? What’s going on?” – JUST CALL THE AMBULANCE AND GET THEM HERE ASAP! I’ll never forget the look of horror on mom’s face when she finally turned the corner and came into her room where the accident had taken place and where I was laying.. It’s a sight no mom should have to see. I kept repeating to myself – DON’T PASS OUT. Don’t Pass Out.. My mom’s next words were ‘ Well at least you didn’t mess my wedding dress’.. See, in a month we were having the first family wedding as my niece was getting married just north of Boston, MA.. Thanks mom.. Of course, she was in shock as well.
I kept calling out – ‘Oh Greg, what have you done.” I was worried about how they were going to get me out of my current position without losing my foot. I was worried about the surgical prognosis. I was worried whether I’d have a foot. I was worried about my mom. I was there to help her, not become her dependent child again. What was my life going to become? It wasn’t going to be the same ever again. It couldn’t be. I just wanted the paramedics to get there ASAP so I could start getting some answers and care could start being administered. I worried how long that would be as Mom lives in a small golf community about a half hour outside of Pinehurst.
While waiting for the first repsonders to arrive, I had mom get my wallet which had my ID and Out of Country Insurance card info, as well as the medications I was currently taking so I was ready to be transported and answer questions. It also gave mom something to do and act as a bit of a distraction.
The fire dept were the first to arrive. It didn’t seem to take long. I have no idea how long it was but am certain it was less than 15 mins. I remember the look on the fireman’s faces as well. Even they (who are used to all sorts of different situations) seemed alarmed at the severity of the injury and situation. It was a huge relief to see first responders. I knew I was in good hands and could now start to grasp and understand some of the magnitude of the injury and start to fixing the problem. There were not going to be any easy fixes but it certainly needed medical intervention..
Priority was to stabilize me. They started an IV drip with what I can only assume was morphine for the pain.. Funny, I hadn’t felt any pain. I hadn’t moved. Shock obviously had taken over. I’m guessing it was more like numbness in my lower right. Before treatment, the paramedics were clear too. “Mr. Brown, I’m going to be honest here. This is bad and it’s going to hurt..” Ouch.. Those are re-assuring words… Stating the obvious I think.. After administering the IV drip and asking a bunch of health related questions they then tended to cleansing the wound with a cleaning solution. Oh yah, there was a bunch of fibreglass insulation amongst all the drywall where my foot and the wound was… Infection.. Never thought of that.
I had fallen into a dressing/make up area of my mom’s master bedroom. The toilet and bathing area were behind my head and her large walk in master closet was at my feet. Area was well lit, but narrow. How were they going to move me without my foot falling off? Was one of the questions that kept going over in my head. A gurney had been brought into my mom’s master bedroom. But, how do I get from my prone position in bathroom/closet to there?? Again, first responder – ‘Mr Brown, were going to try to keep your foot as stable as possible, but moving you to the gurney is going to hurt’ I’m thinking – ‘No shit Sherlock’.. Isn’t that what the morphine is for?’ They got me on some flexible sheeting/gurney to move me. I wasn’t looking forward to the move though. I was ready to shoot through the roof in searing pain while they moved me. The transfer went without incident. I felt a tremendous relief being on the gurney. I now knew I was going places for treatment and get some answers to what I had actually done. I really can’t say I was feeling much pain. I’m sure I wasn’t feeling much of anything.
Never ridden in an ambulance before. Mom was going to gather some things and follow me in her car to the hospital which was in Pinehurst. A 20 – 30 min drive. Again, kept telling my self over and over – don’t pass out. I wanted answers and I wanted to know what was going on. Now another set of questions were going through my mind… When do I tell my wife Karen that I won’t be coming home on Monday (Accident happened around 12:30 Sat June 3, 2017) and what had happened. What was I going to do for work (I’m a self employed insurance advisor), How long would it be before I go home? And of course ‘ Greg – What have you Done?’
Transfer at the hospital was seamless. They were waiting and ready for me. Was obvious all were aware of the severity of the injury. Xrays were taken immediately with a portable Xray machine and I had been introduced to the surgeon within 30 mins of arriving.. While waiting for Xray results and surgeon final pre-op consult, I got the nerve and energy to prop myself up again and look at what I had done to my foot… It was ugly… Good news – My foot was still there – dangling precariously to the right. I’ll never forget the sight though of my Fibula and Tibia (see, I now know the parts of an ankle) sticking out of my skin protruding to the left. I’m no doctor, but this could not be good. This would have been the sight that greeted my mom when she first saw me.. Blood and guts everywhere. Debated about taking a picture on my cell phone for posterity sake but decided discretion was the better part of valor. No one needs to see that sight. It’s a sight that’s etched in my memory forever. I don’t need a picture.
Surgeon came in to give his report. It was going to be major surgery. I had severely damaged all parts of my right ankle – Fibula, Tibia, Talus. They were going to go in and put it all back together with a combination of screws and a metal plate. Wouldn’t be passing through airport security anymore without a pat down… It would require a minimum of 3 months no weight before I could begin rehab to start walking again and rehab would be significant. While I hadn’t lost my foot, surgeon said I came within a whisker of losing the foot. Down the road, later in life, there may also be the need for additional surgery to ‘fuse’ the ankle if the arthritis and pain became too much. Initial prognosis was good. The surgeon had a depth of experience and spoke calmly and with confidence. His confidence, gave me confidence.
Because of the injury, they had to give me a general anesthetic (couldn’t turn me on my side for a spinal tap and local anesthetic). Next, I knew, it was around 9PM and I was in a private room. My mom was there to give the report that surgery had been successful. They had put my foot and ankle back together with 8 screws and a metal plate. Sort of like putting Humpty Dumpty together. Seems almost routine.. My ankle was all taped up in an elaborate splint to keep it immobilized. Mom left shortly after. It had been an extremely and exhausting day.
Speaking of exhausting – I was exhausted – physically and mentally. I was in a very nice private hospital room. Almost felt like I was staying at the Hilton… I met the evening nursing staff of Payton and Shaloa. Very nice and professional. They would be attending to me regularly administering blood thinners for blood clots, and pain killers and monitoring my vitals. Not to mention attending to my bathroom needs. I wasn’t going anywhere. Got very proficient quickly at urinating into a bottle.
That first night was a blur. Again, that question – What have you done Greg? The significance and magnitude of the injury and recovery were beginning to sink in.. 3 – months no weight = no driving = no work. I was ok financially as I had disability insurance which would help pay the bills. But it’s a big adjustment going from being very active and take charge individual to being a dependent. I’d be dependent on someone else for most or all of my needs for at least 3 months.. Ugghhh. What was the pain going to be like? What was I going to do for 3 months?? I’ll go crazy staying home in one place…
The surgeon came in the next morning to review what he had done and give a prognosis. He wanted me in hospital for at least 2 days to make sure I did not move the leg/ankle in any way. Also to see how the pain and swelling from the surgery progressed. The nursing staff were excellent. Very pleasant and professional. Again, I felt like I was at the Hilton. I had my own private TV, food service ordering was all done via a phone order from a daily menu. Food was good (it is hospital food after all). My biggest challenge was toileting. I continued to urinate into a bottle. With the pain medications, they give you stool softeners to ease bowel movements. Again, private bathroom in the room so my only movement was from the bed to the washroom for bowel movements. I had a walker in the room to get to the bathroom. The foot seemed ok, but there was increased pain, due to increased blood flow when the foot was down.
Next major challenge was how and when was I going to be going back home? Surgeon wanted to do a post operation follow up on the following Monday, a week after the surgery to change the dressing, check on the incisions for infection, etc. I found out though that my Out of Country Insurance company however was anxious to get me back to Canada. This reduces their expenses. They had been great to deal with all along. In the end, they were making arrangements to fly me home on Friday June 9. They would arrange a cab to pick me up at my mom’s and drive me to the nearest airport which is 1.5hours away – Raleigh. I was going to fly into Seattle and my wife Karen would meet me there and we would overnight at our trailer which is just outside of Seattle. They’d fly me first class so I’d have as much leg room as possible. Regardless, I wasn’t looking forward to the flight home. It would still be long and uncomfortable. I was worried about blood pressure on the ankle from air pressure changes and risk of blood clots (even though I was still on increased blood thinner doses).
That meant a few extra unplanned night’s at Mom’s. Not part of either of our plans. While in hospital, mom had been busy with insurance adjusters and making arrangements to repair the damage I had done. She knows lots of people in her community who help. I was a vegetable. Essentially moving from laying down on the sofa watching TV to the washroom and back and then to bed. Getting used to moving around with my crutches. The hardest part was sleeping. With the leg immobilized, I could only sleep on my back – not my normal sleeping position. I tended to doze in and out of sleep. This was going to be my new life for the next 3+ months. Whatever I did, I did not want to fall. Mom couldn’t lift me and I didn’t want to hurt or damage my ankle.
That question from when I first fell – “Greg – What have you done?” played over and over in my mind. Now knowing what I had done to myself and what the prognosis was, another question kept creeping in “What are you going to do?” My future mobility and activities were very likely to change. How was I going to survive the next 3+ months of inactivity?